Hospitality’s Confidence Shattered After Year of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has wrecked confidence across hospitality, with fewer than one in five (18%) leaders now optimistic about the market’s prospects for the next 12 months, the new Business Confidence Survey from CGA and Fourth reveals.

The figure is 42 percentage points down on the pre-pandemic level of 60% in the February edition of the survey. Extended restrictions on trading and socialising over the autumn have led more than a quarter (27%) of multi-site business leaders to predict their groups will be unviable within the first six months of 2021 if current levels of support continue. Single-site businesses are at even greater risk of failure, the survey shows.

However, twice as many leaders (35%) say they are optimistic about their own business’ prospects over the next year—a substantial increase from the last edition of the Business Confidence Survey. There are also signs of cautious ambition, with more than two in five (44%) leaders intending to open new sites in 2021.

CGA’s research, supplemented by a poll of members of UKHospitality, the British Beer and Pub Association and the British Institute of Innkeeping, shows the particularly damaging impact of England’s tiered system of restrictions. Nine in 10 (88%) leaders say pubs, bars and restaurants will be unviable or loss-making in Tier 2 regions of England, where well over half (59%) of licensed premises are located.

CGA’s research & insight director Charlie Mitchell said: “As we near the end of hospitality’s toughest year in memory, the bleak picture of the sector will come as little surprise. Suffocating restrictions across Britain will devastate trading in what should be businesses’ busiest time of the year. Leaders’ optimism is at least rising from the rock bottom level of our last survey, and news of a vaccine is a reason for cautious hope of recovery in 2021. However, this week’s Tier 2 restrictions in England and strict new limits in Wales could be fatal for smaller business in particular, making the case for more relaxed trading conditions and better government support even more urgent.”

Sebastien Sepierre, Fourth’s managing director – EMEA, said: “Hospitality has always been a resourceful, optimistic and innovative sector, something we’re immensely proud to be a part of. Despite these strong characteristics, the results clearly paint a stark picture for leaders’ optimism levels across the sector, as businesses look to negotiate the ever-moving goalposts of Government restrictions, during what is traditionally the busiest period of the year. With cautious optimism on the horizon, in the form of a vaccine, there still remain many challenges in the year ahead, such as the availability of goods and labour, after we exit the EU Customs Union. We will continue to work tirelessly with businesses to help them harness the power of technology and data to tackle what lies ahead.”

The Business Confidence Survey from CGA and Fourth features in-depth insights into leaders’ major challenges in 2021, including around Brexit, people and investment.

Four and a half years on from the EU referendum, only half (51%) of leaders think they are well prepared for the completion of the UK’s transition from the EU at the end of the year. Four in five (80%) leaders think Brexit will have negative impacts on their cost of goods, and two-thirds anticipate impacts on overall profitability (65%) and the supply chain (64%).

Two-thirds of leaders anticipate either recruiting no (29%) or fewer (38%) new staff in 2021. The same number (67%) think the difficulty of predicting demand will make labour and inventory scheduling a major challenge next year, while half (49%) are concerned by Brexit-related impacts on the availability of staff. Employee engagement—especially around wellbeing and communications with furloughed staff—is a priority for 2021.

The survey reveals very mixed investment plans from leaders for 2021. With widespread closures anticipated, more than a third (38%) do not plan to open new sites—but slightly more intend to open either one site (21%) or two to five sites (23%). Substantial market churn—especially in London, where closures of offices, retail and tourist venues has hit footfall—can be expected.